Still working on “hyperlocal”

The New York Times, which from what I understand is some sort of newspaper, has an article about “hyperlocal” news sites, and the startups behind them that are trying to reinvent local news.

From what I can see, most of these sites come in one of the following categories:

  • Turnkey “insert town name here” sites with computer-generated statistical data (crime maps are a common example), crowdsourced DIY journalism and aggregation of links to traditional media and local blogs
  • Foundation-supported small journalism outlets with actual hired journalists, mixed in with some community activity and link aggregation.

The latter version I can respect, even though such a funding formula isn’t sustainable in the long term. Some of the projects starting up are small but interesting and show a lot of promise.

It’s the first version that annoys me, the sites like EveryBlock and Placeblogger. While I’m sure their hearts are in the right place, they represent a philosophy that journalism isn’t something you pay for, but rather something a computer can just compile and some CEO can suck the profits from. (I’ll note that this is the philosophy behind a lot of automatically-generated spam sites, and they have about the same rate of success.)

Some of the most telling lines of the piece are near the end:

One hurdle is the need for reliable, quality content. The information on many of these sites can still appear woefully incomplete. Crime reports on EveryBlock, for example, are short on details of what happened. Links to professionally written news articles on Outside.in are mixed with trivial and sometimes irrelevant blog posts.

That raises the question of what these hyperlocal sites will do if newspapers, a main source of credible information, go out of business. “They rely on pulling data from other sources, so they really can’t function if news organizations disappear,” said Steve Outing, who writes about online media for Editor & Publisher Online.

But many hyperlocal entrepreneurs say they are counting on a proliferation of blogs and small local journalism start-ups to keep providing content.

“In many cities, the local blog scene is so rich and deep that even if a newspaper goes away, there would be still be plenty of stuff for us to publish,” said Mr. Holovaty of EveryBlock.

In other words, when they can’t live off the backs of dying newspapers, they’ll profit off the backs of bloggers (who themselves had profited off the backs of the dying newspapers).

This is why I dislike the term “hyperlocal”. It seems so parasitic in nature. Some computer-generated information, like crime maps, are great ideas. Tagging stories with computer-readable location information is also a good idea. And I’m not against content aggregation. But these should be combined with quality original content – the work of skilled journalists – to create a website that can truly be a local destination for news. These strategies should complement the work of journalists, not replace them.

Otherwise, why would I go to a blog that has links to stories in the local paper when I can just go to that paper’s website directly and leave out the middleman?

One thought on “Still working on “hyperlocal”

  1. Fitzroyalty

    It depends on the extent to which hyperlocal bloggers generate unique content and break original stories. I’ve now got to the point where the local newspaper calls me to interview me about stories I break on my local news site so they can then do articles about local issues they didn’t know existed. The roles have been reversed. They need me more than I need them. Now tell me who will disappear first…

    Reply

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